Cindy Blackwell, Ph.D.
Cindy Blackwell is an ACUE Academic Director and earned her ACUE Certificate in Effective College Instruction in 2017 at The University of Southern Mississippi.
Having been involved in formal academic integrity processes for more than a decade spanning two universities, I understand the frustrations faculty feel when they suspect or find a student has cheated in their course. For many faculty, a student cheating can feel personal, even though it is not.
Reflecting in The Chronicle of Higher Education on what he learned from his own academic integrity journey, James Lang (2007) wrote that “the last thing on the student’s mind, when he made the poor decision to plagiarize, was his personal relationship with you. He did it because he was lazy, or he was rushed for time, or he felt overwhelmed by the assignment. He did not do it to send any message to you about your worth as a teacher, or to test your integrity, or to make your life miserable. He did it for his own reasons and did not expect to be caught, and hence thought little, or not at all, about how his actions would affect you.”
While cheating is not a personal affront to the faculty member, it is also not learning for the student. We teach because we want students to learn. As Donald McCabe (2005) wrote in Liberal Education, “Our goal should not simply be to reduce cheating; rather, our goal should be to find innovative and creative ways to use academic integrity as a building block in our efforts to develop more responsible students and, ultimately, more responsible citizens.” This is, after all, the ethos of most university missions.
As Lang notes, students cheat for myriad reasons with the most prominent reasons being not understanding the assignment and not managing time well. As faculty there are many ways we can deter cheating that also assist students with broader growth and development, including motivating and preparing students through structured and guided assignments that are clear, relevant and offer checkpoints and timely and meaningful feedback.
Help Students Self-Motivate
To begin, help students develop intrinsic motivation by making the connection between increased effort and improved performance, as noted in the ACUE Module, ‘Helping Students Persist in their Studies.’ Providing the tools students need to complete a difficult assignment such as rubrics, checklists, exemplars, checkpoints and specific, timely and actionable feedback offers students the structure and confidence to work through complex tasks and helps them better understand an assignment and manage the workload. When students move through an assignment with multiple checkpoints, it greatly decreases their temptation and ability to cheat on the assignment. For example, it is more difficult and less tempting for a student to purchase a research paper at the last minute when she has already submitted and received actionable feedback on a thesis topic, annotated bibliography and an outline or first draft.
Provide Clear Purpose and Goal
In addition, strengthen students’ motivation by making the purpose and expectations of the assignment or assessment clear. Using a Structured Assignment format (offered in ‘Developing Self Directed Learners’) that lays out an assignment’s purpose, goal, tone and skills to be developed and style expectations among other criteria can make the assignment more relevant to the course and the learning outcomes. Further this by making a connection to the students’ future careers. This is important even and especially for GEC courses that students often question why they are required to take. Explaining that you may never use algebra again, but you will use algebraic thinking often can help students stay motivated and persist through difficult tasks while increasing confidence and reducing temptation to cheat on the next exam.
Clearly Define Directions and Expectations
Finally, provide clear directions and explanations that let students know what is and is not cheating for your assignments. If you do not want students to collaborate, be sure they know that. Be sure they also understand your definition of collaboration. Through working with faculty on academic integrity issues, I find that we, as teachers, often send students mixed messages. For example, some faculty encourage students to cite verbatim from the textbook on a homework assignment, while other faculty would consider directly copying from the text a plagiarism violation, even if the assignment never specifically stated to put the definition in your own words. Review your assignments to be sure you are not making assumptions that the answers to are only found in the hidden curriculum.
We teach because we want students to learn and because we care about their development. Cheating for most students is a mismanaged call for help. Show students you care about their learning and character development by offering them a supportive and structured experience that offers them the motivation they need to learn. As McCabe wrote, it is our responsibility to “develop more responsible students and, ultimately, more responsible citizens.”
Lang, J. (2007, October 23) It’s not you. Chronicle of Higher Education.
McCabe, D. (2005). It takes a village: Academic dishonesty and educational opportunity. Liberal Education, 91(3).